WE PAY attention to our mouths daily... but what about older family members?
When you visit your elderly parents, you undoubtedly inquire after their hips, knees, eyes or heart. Have you ever thought about asking how their mouths are?
Whether they live independently or in residential aged care, the mouths of older people can be the most neglected part of the body.
This is for a range of reasons.
The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety heard countless stories of dentures and teeth being left uncleaned for weeks at a time because poor staff-to-patient ratios meant staff were flat out catering for other basic needs. Even if they had the time to look in a mouth, they're not trained to know what they're looking at.
Your elderly relative may be starting to be affected by dementia, so teeth brushing, flossing and visits to the dentist may not occur to them.
Or arthritis may mean they can't hold a toothbrush for long or control it well to effectively clean the teeth. Holding small items to floss may be even more difficult.
The Australian Dental Association says we ignore oral health at our peril.
Did you know that untreated gum disease puts you at 2.5 times higher risk of a heart attack? Or that other oral health issues when left untreated can contribute to Type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer's disease and a range of other cardiovascular issues?
The children of older Aussies have an important role to play in this scenario. Between now and 2050 the number of Australians aged 65-84 is expected to more than double, while the number aged 85 and over is expected to more than quadruple to 1.8 million.
Dental association oral health promoter and dentist Dr Mikaela Chinotti said a significant issue affecting older people is dry mouth.
"A dry mouth is a dangerous mouth because it can increase the risk of tooth decay developing without saliva washing away food particles," she said. "It is often related to medication use, particularly if a person takes several different medications a day.
"Helpful daily tips to combat a dry mouth include drinking lots of water, sipping water while eating, avoiding sugary drinks, drinking less tea and coffee, avoiding smoking and alcohol, and using sauces to moisten foods. Special dry mouth toothpastes, mouth rinses and lubricating mouth gels may help."
A dry mouth can also affect how well dentures stay in place. If your parent wears dentures, ensuring they have the appropriate products to clean them every day also helps to keep the mouth healthy.
Key products include an extra toothbrush (or denture brush) just for cleaning their denture, liquid soap, and denture cleaning tablets. If the denture is a little loose, a denture adhesive from the chemist may help.
Good oral hygiene also helps to prevent gum disease, another issue affecting older people.
Look out for red gums that appear puffy and/or shiny. They may bleed when the teeth are brushed or flossed. In cases of severe gum disease, known as periodontitis, teeth may become loose and look longer with larger spaces between them.
"A professional dental clean can be helpful in all cases but especially for periodontitis which needs professional treatment to stop the disease," Dr Chinotti said.
"Older Australians having trouble brushing or cleaning between their teeth may be more at risk of developing gum disease. Talking to a dentist can also help them to find what works best for cleaning all surfaces of the teeth."
Equally as important is to be aware of any changes that occur in the mouth. A red or white spot that was not there before or an ulcer or mouth sore that does not heal after two weeks, or keeps returning, all need to be checked by a dentist.
These changes could be many things and ruling out oral cancer is an important step.
The Australian Dental Association has a website to help people looking for oral health information and advice - teeth.org.au
Dental Health Week (August 1-7), the Australian Dental Association's annual oral health drive, is a good time to be thinking about not only your mouth but those of older family members too.
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